Been a "Five Jump Chump" since August 1991!
National Airborne Day was created back in 2001 by President George W. Bush to honor the nation's airborne forces of the Armed Forces. August 16, 1940 marked the first official Army parachute jump, validating the innovative concept of inserting United States ground combat forces behind a battle line by parachute. (From Wikipedia) Today is also the 75th anniversary of that event.
Well, I guess I've never been a "paratrooper," but I did go to Airborne School back in 1991 as a cadet between my freshman and sophomore years in college. The experience remains to this day as some of my most vivid memories from being in the Army. A huge learning and growing experience for a 19 year old.
Other than getting used to the heat and humidity of the late August summer down in Fort Benning, Georgia and that whole jumping out of perfectly good airplanes despite not being a huge fan of heights, Airborne School wasn't incredibly tough. Yeah, we had to run everywhere and I learned to eat REALLY fast, but it was also the first time I was really away from home and on my own. Of course throw into that the whole jumping out of airplanes "danger" part.
I was in Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry. I still have the t-shirt :-) I had C373 taped to the front of my helmet and my name was "Charlie 373" for three weeks to every Sergeant Airborne. My particular class was full of vets returning from the Gulf War that got to attend Airborne School as a reward. Probably learned the most from them, being able to talk to "real" soldiers and seeing their scrapbooks and photo albums.
The experience was over before I knew it, but I can still remember it like yesterday while other times during my years of service have become fuzzy. Probably more interesting to me personally, here's a few random stories/memories from back then:
It was the Army's policy to send you on official travel using the nearest possible airport. So between me and my classmate Nate, the closest place was up in the north woods of Minnesota instead of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. We got to ride down in some beat up prop plane that I swore was going to crash. This was hands down the scariest part of my whole Airborne School experience.
I was put on Staff Duty the very first Friday night. Across the hall were all the pictures of the cadre and Sergeant Airbornes. One was pictured with a patch over one eye. Thinking it was a fake to make him look "tough," we all thought it was a big joke until we realized he was standing right behind us. NCOs have an incredible sense of timing sometimes. :-)
My Sergeant Airborne was gospel singer, which made running and marching a real pleasure. Greatly influenced the way I sang cadence from then on. The next chalk's Sergeant Airborne tried his best to make Beastie Boys songs into cadences. That didn't really work as well...
Nearing the end of his patience during training one day, my Sergeant Airborne rhetorically asked, "You know who you don't want to get angry, do you?" Being a young nerdy wise-ass I replied, "Bruce Banner?" Pro: everyone got the joke. Con: we did LOTS of push ups. :-)
I was on barracks Fire Guard one night, when around 2:30 in the morning a Sergeant Airborne came waltzing in toting a Tommy submachine gun complete with drum mag. He looked at me and with a finger to his lips said, "Shhhhhhh!" Then went upstairs to his quarters and went to bed.
My very first jump was made even more unique by having a Chaplin jump with us as well as a group of British special forces types who yelled and jumped out the door together in one big clump.
Our forth and fifth jumps were delayed greatly by the weather and low cloud ceilings. At one time we spent 8-10 hours sitting in our gear waiting in the equipment shed. Pressed for time, our last couple of jumps were done double barrel shotgun style, with the whole plane unloading in one pass alternating out of both doors.
There's ton's of stuff that I'll never forget, but again, probably only interesting to me. The First Sergeant's Safety Brief before that very first weekend, the boot shining guys, the US Infantry Museum complete with Rommel's Field Marshal baton, playing pool with some crazy Marine, getting "Blood Wings," running into a general on the dropzone, and sharing the best pizza we ever tasted on a cool Saturday night with my new buddy Bob from Texas.
Last but not least, Tom Petty's song "Learning to Fly" had been released earlier in the year (April) and was still very popular on the radio. It very appropriately became my personal theme song.
"I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing."
Tom Petty - Learning to Fly